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Israeli Committee Decides On Release of Palestinian Prisoners (CNS-CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE) By Julie Stahl JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 07/23/03) Source: http://www.cnsnews.com/ViewForeignBureaus.asp?Page=\ForeignBureaus\archive\200307\FOR20030723g.html
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Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The Israeli government decided on Wednesday to release an unspecified number of Palestinian security prisoners, but reports indicated there would not be any Hamas or Islamic Jihad militants among them - at least until the full cabinet has a chance to discuss the release.
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The issue of prisoner releases is very sensitive and important for both Israel and the Palestinians, even though it is not mentioned in the U.S.-sponsored "road map" plan.
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Israel agreed to release several hundred prisoners, according to earlier reports, but PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has been pushing for a general amnesty of the approximately 6,000 Palestinian prisoners held. Many of them are from groups that reject any negotiated settlement with Israel such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
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Both groups entered into an agreement with the PA for a temporary halt to violence, but the groups have warned that the pact could fall apart if militants from their groups are not released.
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For the Israeli government, the issue raises both security and public relations concerns. After three years of terror attacks and thousands of Israeli dead and wounded, the public is not happy about the idea of freeing prisoners who have either carried out attacks or could carry out attacks in the future.
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The Israeli ministerial committee formed to consider the release of Palestinian prisoners, headed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, met for the first time on Wednesday. It decided to recommend the release of Palestinians on a list drawn up by Israel´s security services, the prime minister´s media advisor said in a statement.
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Initially, Israel said it would not release prisoners from groups that shun any peace agreement with Israel; but later officials hinted that some could be released, as long as they were not involved in the murder of Israelis.
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There was no mention in the statement about who the prisoners were or how many or when they would be released. The prime minister´s office declined to provide details on those issues.
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But according to a report on Israel Radio, neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad activists will not be released at this time.
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Israel´s Ha´aretz newspaper website reported later that some 530 prisoners would be released, but those belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad would be set free only after the full cabinet approved the release at a later meeting.
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According to the statement, the committee also decided that the government would re-evaluate the cases of prisoners "about whom doubts have arisen."
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Sharon told ministers at the meeting that he had informed Abbas at a meeting last Sunday that the issue of a prisoner release was "especially sensitive" for Israel. Abbas told him the issue is of great importance to him and that progress would strengthen his position in the eyes of Palestinians, Sharon said.
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"If terror continues and there is no genuine Palestinian effort to fight and eliminate it - the releases will stop," Sharon insisted.
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"The releases will be carried out in tightly supervised, small and measured doses in proportion to proven Palestinian actions in the security sphere," he added.
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Sharon said that while there had been significant activity by the PA in preventing terror and incitement, there have been no efforts made to dismantle terrorist groups.
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Abbas is expected to ask for President Bush´s help in pressuring Israel to release more than a few hundred prisoners, when he meets with him at the White House on Friday.
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Israeli officials have expressed confidence that Washington will not pressure Israel into making any moves that would compromise its security. (copyright 1998-2003 Cybercast News Service. 07/23/03)
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